Annie Scott Dill Maunder 1868-1947

By Michael Kennedy, Strabane History Society

Did you know that there is a crater on the surface of the moon named after a Strabane lady from the Derry Road?


Annie Scott Dill Maunder

On 14th April 1868, a baby girl was born into the family of William Andrew Russell, the minister of the Presbyterian Church at the Manse at Derry Road in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, Ireland and his second wife, Hessy Nesbitt Dill. It must have been written in the stars because this young lady was to become an accomplished mathematician, and one of the most outstanding astronomers of her time. Indeed, the Maunder crater on the moon has been co-named after this Strabane lady and her husband, Walter.

Annie was the oldest of the family of four, two boys and two girls. Rev. William had two children from a previous marriage. One of her brothers, J. Dill Russell, also became a distinguished astronomer.

ANNIE SCOTT DILL MAUNDERHer father William, son of Alexander Russell of Burnside Cottage, Raphoe, was ordained on 30th January 1846 and spent 36 years in the ministry in Strabane. According to David Killen, there were 102 communicants in the congregation of the 2nd Strabane church, some from the town and many from Lifford and rural areas. Praise for the congregation was contained in a letter from Major Humphrey, the land agent of Abercorn and father of Cecil Frances Alexander, who described Russell as:-

“… of the most excellent and hard-working Ministers of the General assembly….”

In 1854 Russell reported that £122-10 had been raised for the church and the building of the new manse at Derry Road. The foundation for the house was laid in 1860 and it was in that house that his daughter Annie was born on 14th April 1868.

Strabane Girls’ Presbyterian School

Strabane Girls’ Presbyterian School

Annie’s early education would have been at the “head of the town” at the 1st Strabane Girls’ Presbyterian School, Meetinghouse Street. She would have been taught by Misses Mary and Jane Henderson, and Martha S. Black (the school has since been referred to as Black’s School after the principal, Miss Black). Girls remained at elementary school till the age of 14.

Strabane Academy School in 1883

Strabane Academy School in 1883

William retired in 1882, though he was listed as Senior Trustee and Secretary of the Board of Strabane Academy School in 1883, around the time Annie was ready for her secondary education.

ANNIE SCOTT DILL MAUNDERShe attended the Ladies Collegiate School, Belfast, founded in 1859 by Mrs Margaret Byers. The school quickly acquired a high reputation for academic excellence and provided a boarding department at Drumglass House in which, no doubt, Annie would have stayed. (in 1887 the college was renamed, by Royal Command, Victoria College, in honour of the Jubilee Year of Queen Victoria).

From early days in her studies she proved to be a formidable student, and in 1886 she gained the prize for outstanding achievement; she entered the Girton University open entrance scholarship examination, and was awarded a three-year scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge University. In 1889 she was awarded her degree with honours from Girton, having achieved top place in mathematics and ranked Senior Optime in her university list. However, it must be noted that, at this time, as a female student, she was not permitted to receive or accept her B.A. degree award.


In 1891 she started her work as a ‘lady computer’ in the solar department at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in London. Lady computers were skilled assistants who were paid a miserable sum of £4 per month. She carried out routine calculations to turn raw observations into usable data. She was trained to use a telescope and part of her responsibilities was to track the movements of sunspots and to photograph the Sun.


In July 1892 she discovered a giant black spot on the sun which resulted in a magnetic storm. The significance of this phenomenon was not fully understood at the time, though by 1894 she had devised the Solar Maximum by which she had tracked and identified a high number of sunspots. In this year she joined the British Astronomical Society and soon was appointed as editor of the society’s journal, a position she held for 35 years. She often followed solar eclipses in different parts of the country, and later she travelled to India and other countries to pursue her research.

In 1895 she married her boss, Edward Walter Maunder, and, according to Civil Service rules, had to resign her research post as a result. However, she continued to collaborate with Walter and together they established the correlation between the variations in sunspot numbers and the climate of the earth. This finding continues to inform weather forecasters to this day.


In 1897 she received a grant from Girton College in recognition of her invaluable research work. She used the money to design her own short-focus camera with 1.5 inch lens. This camera was used to great value on 22 January 1898 while on an expedition to India. There she photographed the image of the solar corona during the total eclipse of the sun

In 1908 she published many of her remarkable findings and images of the sun and the Milky Way in a book called “The Heavens and their story” (still available on Amazon from £10-£33) Her outstanding research led to her election as a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1916, the first female ever to be admitted to the Society.


Annie discovered that, from 1645 to 1715, a period of 70 years referred to as the ‘mini-ice age’ sunspots on the moon were scarce, thus leading to few magnetic disturbances and auroral displays (northern lights). From this she concluded that the variation in the number of sunspots had a direct impact on the climate of the earth. This phenomenon known as the Maunder Minimum is used in debates about climate change to this day.

ANNIE SCOTT DILL MAUNDERLittle was known of the research work of Annie and Walter until ‘the butterfly diagram’, a depiction of the 11 year sunspot cycle which shows the latitudes of sunspots change with each cycle, was identified by Dr Tom Bogdan. In 2000 Bogdan, of the High Altitude Observatory, Boulder, had the original drawings restored and realised the significance of the research work carried out by Annie Maunder.

Walter and Annie did not have any children, although she helped to bring up the five children Walter had from a previous marriage.

Up to 1916 most of Annie’s research work was published under the name of Walter. During these years of World War I Annie went back to work at the Greenwich Observatory.

Walter died in 1928, aged 76, and Annie survived until the age of 80. She died in Wandsworth in London on 15th September 1947.

Without doubt the name of Annie Scott Dill Maunder, from Derry Road, Strabane, is written in the stars.

The Urney Bell

Article Author: Michael G. Kennedy

Urney Bell Strabane

Urney Bell

“There are strange things done by the ……” so continues the words of Robert Service in a well-known poem. These words could apply to the story of the Urney Bell, once a hidden gem, now hanging in the grounds of St. Mary’s Church, Melmount, Strabane.

On one occasion the bell had been ‘stolen’ by the parish priest, and on another occasion buried in a graveyard for so many years that the parishioners forgot where it had been hidden!

In local folklore you could not make up such a tale!

Doneyloop Chapel Urney Parish Donegal

Doneyloop Chapel Urney Parish Donegal

The bell, measuring eight (8) feet in circumference, cost the parish of Urney the princely sum of £72-10-0 in 1869. It was purchased by the Most Reverend James Connolly P.P., to mark the opening of the church of St. Columba at Doneyloop, on the Donegal side of the border between Clady and Castlefinn. The bell and the church were officially dedicated by the Most Reverend Francis Kelly D.D. for the Honour and Service of God. At this time Urney was part of the greater parish of Castlederg, Sion Mills, Melmount and Clady. The centre of the parish was at Doneyloop, where the parochial house was located.

A church on the northern edge of the parish had been built near Strabane at Melmount in 1846 by Fr. Paul Bradley who had succeeded Fr. Denis McDevitt as Parish Priest of Urney.

Rev. Father John McElhatton

Rev. Father John McElhatton

In 1904 the Rev. Father John McElhatton was appointed P.P. of Urney. McElhatton was a formidable gentleman who immersed himself in local politics, especially in the Home Rule movement. In 1906 the land on which the present Church of St. Mary’s, Melmount now stands became available. Fr. McElhatton purchased the land and proceeded to build a large stately dwelling as the parochial house. He decided to move from Doneyloop and took up residence there.

Fr. McElhatton then took the decision to dismantle the bell outside St. Columba’s Church and had it transferred to Melmount. There it was erected on a stone plinth on the left hand side of the main entrance to the old St. Mary’s Church at Melmount. It remained there for 34 years. Needless to say the parishioners of Urney were less than happy the bell, erected to commemorate their church, with the inscription “Dedicated to St. Colmcille, Doneyloop, by the Most Rev. Fr. Francis Kelly, D.D……” now stood outside St. Mary’s of Melmount.

In 1939 the Second WOld St Mary's Church Melmount Strabaneorld War broke out. By 1940 the campaign was going badly for Britain. Because of the shortage of armament stocks it became necessary for the Government to requisition iron and metal objects for recycling in order to help provide munitions. In the Strabane area soldiers were commissioned to gather in any metals that would help the war effort. These included metal gates, railings and bells! To this day there remains evidence of metal stumps outside houses where railings were removed.

However local parishioners at Melmount, fearful of losing ‘their’ precious bell, took action. One night a group of them arranged to meet outside the church, they removed the bell and buried it in a secret location at the rear of the cemetery.

There it remained, buried, secure and forgotten – for so long in fact that no one could quite remember where it had been hidden. When parishioners began again to question the empty plinth the then new curate in Melmount, Rev. Fr. John Convery began a search. Eventually it was discovered in the rear of the graveyard, 30 yards south of the large wooden holy cross, in an insignificant plot. The grave had a single name to mark the spot – A. Bell.

In 1970 a new modern church of St. Mary’s was built on the other side of the road, to replace the old church. It was built in front of the old parochial house. In 1978 Rev. Fr. Anthony Mulvey was appointed P.P. Melmount and several years later he had a new plinth constructed outside the new church and had the bell once again erected.

St Mary's Church Melmount Strabane

St Mary’s Church Melmount Strabane featuring the bell


Although the bell continues to stand there, and ring out its chimes, the people of Urney still believe that the bell was wrongly removed and should rightly stand outside the Church of St. Columba’s at Doneyloop.


The Life & Times of ‘Half-Hanged’ MacNaghten 1724-1761

Article Author: Michael Kennedy

MacNaghten Family CrestWhen John MacNaghten shot Mary Anne Knox in the coach at Cloghcor near Strabane on 10th November 1761, accidently or otherwise, he was hunted down by Captain Caldwell and his men as a brigand and a scoundrel. By the time he fell from the scaffold at Lifford, half-hanged, he was a romantic figure set in the folklore of his time. 250 years on the tale still abounds. Legend has it that the story was often told in front of an open hearth in many of the ‘big houses’ around the North West.

Romeo or rogue, brigand or beau, like him or loathe him, but remember him, you will! The name will attract the attention of even the not-so-curious. Not hanged, but HALF-HANGED! And when recounted to modern day primary school children they are enthralled. Frequently retold by raconteurs, or acted out on stage and television, the story is worth the telling!

On the Great Road between Lifford and Strabane on a dark December day in the year 1761 the hangman slipped the rope over the head of the nobleman, John MacNaghten. A large crowd had gathered from the surrounding hinterland of Counties Coleraine, (as County Derry was then known) Tyrone and Donegal. The story of MacNaghten had caught the ear of many a curious citizen; he had a certain romantic debonair presence and many came to sympathise. And so it was that, sent swinging from the gallows high with such force that the rope broke he came crashing down and landed among the crowd. Many in the crowd willed him to escape, claiming that this was a clear sign of divine providence. But he defied the public mood of the people with the never-to-be-forgotten words “I vow that no one will ever speak of me as Half-Hanged MacNaghten.” He returned himself to the jurisdiction of the hangman and, with a new rope, was despatched into the arms of eternity.

The MacNaghten family can be traced back to the twelfth century in Scotland with clan lands in Argyll and the Moray district. Some family members fought with John Balliol against Robert Bruce, while one fought at Flodden Field with James IV. The Irish connection arrived in Ireland in 1580 when Shane Dhu was appointed secretary to his grand-uncle Randal MacSorley MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim. He lived at Ballmagarry, in Co. Antrim, about a mile from Dunluce Castle. His son Daniel built a house along the Antrim coast at Benvarden in 1636. Ownership of the house and estate passed to Daniel’s son, John who had two boys, Edmund and Bartholomew. Edmund had been born on 10 August 1679 and was taken to Derry by his mother at the time of the siege for protection from James II’s troops. He inherited an estate at Beardiville in Co. Antrim, while Bartholomew took ownership of the estate at Benvarden. Bartholomew was a merchant in Derry and a magistrate for Co. Antrim. He married the daughter of Alderman Henry McManus from Derry and had two sons, Bartholomew and John. John was born in 1724 (though Sir James Caldwell (Ref.1) claims he was born in 1722).

Prior School Raphoe

Royal School in Raphoe in Co. Donegal by Kenneth Allen, CC BY-SA 2.0,

John received his early education at the Royal School in Raphoe in Co. Donegal. He graduated to Trinity College, Dublin in March, 1740. In Dublin John adopted a cavalier life style and spent more time gambling than studying. Sadly in August 1740 his father died and John inherited Benvarden, a substantial and fairly prosperous estate with an annual income of £600. His studies were curtailed and he left Trinity the following year, 1741. He continued to gamble heavily and, in order to repay his debts, he had to sell and mortgage large parts of the estate.

His fortunes were somewhat restored when he met and fell in love with Sophie Daniel from Co. Down. Sophie was the daughter of Richard Daniel, Dean of Down and, on marrying her, MacNaghten was able to pay off his accumulated debts with the substantial dowry inherited by Sophie. With the promise of reforming his gambling ways the newly weds set up home in Dublin. (Note 2)

But alas, he was unable to sustain his pledge to her and soon returned to his gambling ways. By 1756 he had accumulated significant debts and a warrant was issued for his arrest. In the confrontation that ensued the sheriff had to smash down the door to access the house, to take John into custody. His wife, Sophie, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, was so upset by the incident that she died in the commotion. It is said that MacNaghten was heart-broken and contemplated suicide. Friends and family rallied to his support. Sophie’s brother-in-law, Lord Massarine, used his considerable influence to have MacNaghten appointed to the post of collector of taxes for the borough of Coleraine, a job which paid him a salary of £200 per year. John however had not changed his ways and soon had accumulated debts of £800. He was guilty of embezzlement of some of the tax money, was caught and lost his job. Massarine and friends had to repay the deficit.

In his hour of greatest need John MacNaghten was offered the hand of friendship from a life-long acquaintance, Mr. Andrew Knox of Prehen, an estate on the south side of Derry City, on the road to Strabane. Andrew was the M.P. for Donegal and had two children, George aged 18 and Mary Anne, aged 15. Macnaghten, in his desperation, had made several attempts to solve his solvency problems by unsuccessfully seeking the nomination for Parliament for the constituency of Bath. Success in this would have left him immune from arrest for debts.

Benvarden House Co. Antrim

Benvarden House Co. Antrim by Kay Atherton, CC BY-SA 2.0,

It so happened that Mary Anne Knox, who was a fine looking young lady, with light fair hair and fine complexion would, on marriage, inherit a dowry of £6,000. Mary Anne was greatly impressed at the attentions shown to her by this handsome, witty and sociable gentleman. Her mother Mrs. Knox was also impressed by MacNaghten and viewed him as a possible son-in-law. Benvarden House, Co. Antrim

According to Caldwell’s account of events it was at this point that circumstances seemed to accelerate for John and Mary Anne. MacNaghten believed that an offer of marriage would find favour with Mary Anne’s father so he approached Andrew with his proposal. Mr. Knox, who had by now become fully acquainted with MacNaghten’s past, turned him down. John asked that no further mention should be ever made of this offer, but he continued to woe Mary Anne and indeed led her to believe that her father had agreed to the match, though the agreement had to remain secret.

Mary Anne Knox

Mary Anne Knox

Shortly after this an event was played out which had a Mary Anne Knox significant influence on the plot. At the home of Joshua Swetenham in Derry MacNaghten and Mary Anne play-acted a marriage ceremony, reading the words of the service which were witnessed by a seventeen year old Andrew Hamilton. From that moment on that John MacNaghten claimed that this was a true marriage ceremony. Mary Anne, however, countered this claim by saying she had repeatedly added during the mock ceremony, “only if my father gives his consent”.

Unaware of these events Andrew Knox approved of MacNaghten and Mary Anne travelling to stay with a friend, William Wray, at Ards in Co. Donegal. They were due to stop at the home of John McCausland at Strabane and it was here that, according to the London account of 1762, John MacNaghten claimed his right to consummate the marriage. McCausland naturally refused, sent word of the affair to Andrew Knox at Prehen and forbade MacNaghten from travelling onwards with Mary Anne. MacNaghten followed after her and made the same claims at Ards. At this stage word had reached Andrew Knox. Mary Anne was sent home under escort and John MacNaghten was forbidden from visiting Prehen ever again.

There followed a series of claims and counter claims in the newspapers as John MacNaghten claimed Mary Anne was his rightful wife. When MacNaghten came to live with his cousin, Charles McManus in Derry, Mary was sent to Sligo as the family feared she might be abducted. MacNaghten followed her to Sligo where he encountered a friend of the Knox family, John Magill, M.P. for Rathcormick. They fell out and MacNaghten challenged Magill to a duel. Due to the influence of drink the aim of both was poor and John MacNaghten was shot in the leg.

Andrew Knox now brought the matter to the attention of the Ecclesiastical Court in Derry to ask that the alleged marriage be declared void. MacNaghten refused to allow Andrew Hamilton to act as witness but instead asked that the case be referred to the Metropolitan Church Court in Armagh. The case eventually arrived at the Court of Delegates of Ireland and Knox won the ruling and was awarded damages of £500. Writs were issued against MacNaghten by the Knox family in relation to threats made against them. The Lord Chief Justice issued another writ against MacNaghten because of further threats made against Justice Scott after he had ruled in favour of Knox.

MacNaghten fled to Bath in England to avoid the writs and fines. He still had aspirations of becoming an M.P., this time by seeking nomination for the borough of Carrickfergus. But his reputation and behaviour ruled against him and he once again began to accumulate debt through gambling. It was at this time that he had gone to stay with a friend, William Hickey. Hickey recorded in his memoirs that his mother considered John MacNaghten capable of committing violent acts!

While in Bath John received word that Mary Anne was in Swanlinbar, Co. Cavan, to ‘take the mineral waters’. John made his way there dressed as a sailor, wearing a short white wig, a checked shirt and coat tied with a rope. He found lodgings in a cabin on Mary Anne’s route to the well. The landlady, however, discovered gun powder and shot hidden in the sleeve of his shirt and reported him as a robber. A warrant was issued for his arrest but on giving himself up to the bishop of Kilmore John MacNaghten soon became a celebrity around Cavan. He explained to the bishop that he had been driven by passion and love for Mary Anne to claim what was rightfully his. He persuaded people that he had been wronged by the Knoxs. His sad story, his personality and charisma won him many friends and supporters in high places.

MacNaghten had always held out hope of inheriting the large estate of Beardiville from his elderly uncle Edmund. To his dismay Edmund, aged 80, had found a young bride and was intent on producing an heir of his own. According to Caldwell this persuaded MacNaghten that he was left with only one option, the abduction of Mary Anne Knox.

Cloghcor Inn

Cloghcor Inn

On 10th November 1761 Andrew Know was due to depart from Prehen on his way to Dublin for the opening of Parliament. It was John MacNaghten’s intention to intercept the Knox party at Cloghcor, five miles outside Strabane, at a point where the road narrows. Using the alias Smith for fear of detection he had gone to the area with his trusted Cloghcor Inn servants, George MacDougal, James MacCarrel and Thomas Dunlap and had taken lodging with a hearth money collector called Irwin on the banks of the Dennett river.

From information received from some of his staff that MacNaghten had been seen in the area Andrew Knox had reason to believe that an ambush was imminent and so he mustered a strong protection party to accompany him. Andrew Knox’s brother, James and a servant rode in front, followed by Mary Anne’s brother George Knox. Locals, however, believe that many of the party’s weapons, including blunderbusses and pistols, had been rendered useless by servants in the pay of MacNaghten.

Horse Cart

The post chaise pulled in at the Coach Inn at Cloghcor before 11.00 a.m. for a change of horses and refreshments. As the group resumed the journey the coach passed the cabin belonging to the Keyes family: John MacNaghten and two others ran out from behind a dunghill, armed with pistols, into the middle of the road and demanded that the coachman halt the coach. One of Knox’s loyal servants, a blacksmith by the name of McCullough, attempted to intervene and was shot in the hand by MacNaghten. He was further shot in the knee and groin. At this point Andrew Knox drew his pistol but it failed to go off. MacNaghten then obtained reloaded pistols from the cabin and aimed them at the carriage. Mary Anne threw herself over her father to protect him just as MacNaghten discharged a pistol shot which struck the young girl. As this was going on a Mr. Love emerged from behind a turf stack and injured John MacNaghten with swan shot ( type of shot discharged from a blunderbuss). John and his companions realised the gravity of the situation and decided to make their escape from the scene of the ambush.

George Knox left the scene at a gallop to seek The Knox’s Coach help from Caldwell’s Enniskillen Dragoons stationed at Strabane. Dr. Law was sent for to tend to Mary Anne who had been removed from the carriage to the floor of Keyes’ cabin. She died four hours later. The dragoons arrived within the hour and set off in all directions in pursuit of John MacNaghten and his companions. A reward of 100 guineas was offered for his capture.

MacNaghten was much closer to the scene than the soldiers realised. He had found refuge in a hay loft in Sandville belonging to a bleacher, Thomas Winsley. It was reported that two local soldiers, Private Reed and Corporal Caldwell, had noticed Winsley’s carrying food across the farm yard to the loft. They followed her and found MacNaghten hiding above. He was taken by cart to Lifford Jail. Dunlap was later caught near his home in Ballybogey. MacNaghten was kept in confinement at the insistence of Andrew Knox as there were rumours that locals would attempt to free him. MacNaghten’s brother Bartholomew visited him in Lifford jail and paid for food and medical treatment for his wounds.

On 7th December 1761 John MacNaghten was carried on a bier into the great courtroom in Lifford. MacNaghten defended himself by claiming that he had never intended to harm Mary Anne or any other person; his intention was merely to take her away. He claimed in his defence that Mary Anne had written asking him to intercept the postchaise but the prosecution denounced the letter as a forgery. Throughout the trial MacNaghten referred to Mary Anne as his wife. He also begged that the life of John Dunlap be spared as he was an innocent man acting as a loyal servant. Legend has it that many in the court were brought to tears by the pleading and oratory of John MacNaghten.

Lifford Courthouse

© Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The evidence against John MacNaghten was overwhelming. It was claimed in court that MacNaghten was heard to shout ‘Shoot! Shoot Mary Anne!’ The jury took little time in returning a verdict of guilty on both MacNaghten and his faithful servant Dunlap. Judges Mountainy, Scotard and Smith pronounced the death sentence and many in the courtroom sobbed. The high sheriff declared that the execution would be held on Tuesday 15th December 1761. MacNaghten was returned to his cell in Lifford jail and was visited by his brother Bartholomew again. The brother also called with the local minister and paid him the sum Lifford Jail & Courthouse of three guineas for the cost of burial.

According to the Belfast Newsletter account, MacNaghten was taken from the jail at 1.00pm on the 15th and remained calm as he was taken to the place of execution. It was said locally that no one would volunteer to build the gallows and members of the Knox family themselves erected the structure. It was further claimed that no blacksmith could be found to remove the fetters from his wrists. Indeed a hangman was brought in from Cavan to perform the hanging. MacNaghten made no speech from the gallows but had been assured that his head would not be displayed like a common criminal at the front of the jail.

Following the successful second attempt at the hanging MacNaghten was taken from the gallows and laid to rest in an unmarked grave at the rear of Patrick Street graveyard. The man who vowed not to be remembered as Half-hanged was thereafter immortalised in his own words.

Ref 1

One of the accounts of the life of JohnMacNaghten was printed anonymously in London in 1762. It has recently been established that the source was Sir James Caldwell. Caldwell was born c. 1720 and lived near Beleek in Co. Fermanagh. After spending time in France, Italy and Austria he returned to Ireland in 1748. In 1760 he formed a company of Light Horse Regiment and was based in Strabane. He had taken an interest in the case of MacNaghten and Knox. It was his troopers who captured John MacNaghten at Sandville.

Ref 2

Information regarding the MacNaghten family, the different spellings of the name, and reference to Sophie Daniel has kindly been provided in the following reference by Angus MacNaghten, great, great, great grandson of Edmund of Beardiville, John MacNaghten’s uncle:- Letter from Angus MacNaghten, Ascot, Berkshire to David Canning 9th May 1990

Ref 3

A concise dissertation on the human passions exemplified in the life and untimely death of John MacNaghten Esq; (lately executed for the murder of Miss Knox in which the particulars of this trial and a narrative of his conduct and behaviour, are faithfully recited. Written in Ireland by an impartial observer) London 1762

Ref 4

Some authentic particulars of the life of the late John MacNaghten Esq (of Benvarden who was executed in Ireland on Tuesday 15 December for the murder of Miss Mary Anne Knox; only daughter of Andrew Knox, Esq. of Prehen, representative in the late and present Parliament for the County of Donegal. Compiled from papers communicated by a gentleman in Ireland to a person of distinction of that kingdom now residing here. London printed: and Dublin reprinted by G. Faulkner in Essex Street, MDCCLXII. . London & Dublin 1762

Note – Recently it has been established that the author was most likely Sir James Caldwell due to the intimate details of minor characters and his defence of Mary Anne Knox)

Printed Sources

  • Half-hanged MacNaghten, David Canning in ‘Mourne Review’, Strabane History Society 1991
  • Half-hanged MacNaghten, Darinagh Boyle, 1993 Guildhall Press
  • Half-hanged MacNaghten Project, David Canning & Michael Kennedy, Strabane Teachers’ Centre 1989 W.E.L.B.
  • Andrew Knox, Bishop of Raphoe & his Descendants, Hempton (Publisher), Derry 1892
  • A concise dissertation on the human passions exemplified in the life and untimely death of John MacNaghten Esq; London 1762
  • Belfast Newsletter:
    • 14th November 1761
    • 15th November 1761
    • 22nd December 1761
  • Derry Journal:
    • 12th April 1968
  • Some authentic particulars of the life of John MacNaghten , London and Dublin 1792

T.V. Mast

Hidden Gems series by Michael Kennedy, Strabane History Society

If you are looking for hidden gems search no further than the sky above Strabane. Yes! The sky!

Everyone sees it…but no one notices it: unless you are a weary traveller, returning home. Then it is a beacon in the sky, guiding you home, especially at night, and particularly on a clear night.

oldTVMastIn 1963 the commercial T.V. Company, Independent Television Authority, raised the capital to expand their growing home entertainment business to the north west area of Ireland, into the counties of Tyrone, Derry and Fermanagh; parts of Donegal benefitted as well. In the townland of Legfordrum, on the top of the hill known as Meenashesk, at a height of 1095 feet, building crews arrived from various parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. On land belonging to George King, the excavations were started. The workers were housed originally in temporary accommodation to shelter them from the harsh weather, as the metal frames arrived on large low loaders. The television mast rose to the height of 305.5 metres i.e. over 1000 feet. It is built on a ball which moves very slightly to allow for the pressure of the high winds on the tower. It is secured by a series of huge guy cables embedded in concrete casings.

tvMastConstructorIn the early years there was a team of engineers, security men and caretaking staff, a secretary and a cook, all based at the mountain station. The custom-built station housed a bank of television monitors, sound relaying systems and communications facilities linking Meenashesk to head office. A Land Rover was provided to ferry the staff from Strabane; the team maintained a round-the-clock service operating in all weathers.

tvMastTo put this gem in perspective, the Leaning Tower of Pisa stands 56 metres high, the Samson Crane at Harland & Wolff in Belfast is 106 metres, the Millennium Spire in Dublin is 120 metres, the London Eye measures 135 metres, the Great Pyramid at Gaza 139 metres and the T.V. Mast of Strabane is 305 metres high. And families came from far and near on Sunday excursions to look at it – it became quite a tourist attraction in its time.

The T,V, Mast is now in the ownership of ARQIVA and the signal reaches out to service 34,000 homes in the North West area of Ireland. It sends out signals and attracts travellers. Strabane travellers will tell you that when you see the welcome red lights in the sky at night you are indeed close to home.

The Strabane T.V. mast celebrated 50 years in service in 2014.

Gandhi, Strabane’s Legless Man

The name of James Hughes will not meet with instant recognition in the annals of Strabane. Unlike Dunlap, Wilson, O’Brien or Alexander he did not write a page of history on the world stage or influence the destiny of the Tyrone town. But in his own right he deserves a mention in the story of Strabane as he remains an interesting, intriguing yet mysterious character for those who remember the man known affectionately as Gandhi, the Man with no legs! He was a hidden gem!

Born James Hughes, some claim from the east coast of England near Grimsby, others claim he was born a cockney within the sound of the Bow Bells in the city of London. Some claimed categorically that James Hughes came from a little known village near Evesham called Pershore in the County of Worcester, on the River Avon, born in the year 1887.


During the First World War he was involved in a most tragic rail accident while working on the railways in Canada which resulted in his legs being severed from his body. He was left with two stumps, one measuring 3 inches, the other 6 inches. He then went to live with a sister much older than himself who looked after him for many years. But he was of independent spirit and when she declared her reluctance to continue to care for him he decided to set off on his travels. She did visit him many times during his life in Strabane and begged him to return with her. People who witnessed her visits claimed she was of substantial means as she drove a posh car!

How he came to reside in Strabane no one knows. It is claimed that he arrived by train in Derry on the G.N.R. broad gauge in the early 1930s. At first he lived near Prehen on the outskirts of Derry. He then lived for a short time at Artigarvan. People who remember him say that, from early days, he was given a place to live on ground belonging to the G.N.R. at Roundhill on the Derry Road, next to a man called Harry Duke. It is claimed that he had a great fondness for railways so it was appropriate that he lived close to the narrow gauge Donegal line which ran from Strabane via Ballymagorry and Donemana into the Waterside area of Derry. It is said that he never wanted for coal as Mick Madden, a driver, and Fred McNulty, a fireman on the railway, always threw off sufficient coal as they passed his plot.

He lived in a small hut or shack, built for him by Herdman’s of Sion Mills who took pity on him. They built it and transferred it from the village of Sion to the Derry Road It was made of wood and rushes. It was placed along the hedge row on a slope down the garden which was visible from the road. Those who passed by on the Ulster Transport buses often saw him sitting working in the garden. It is reported that he was delighted with the house, given to him free of charge. Mr. Hughes had nothing, only a few pounds available to him from his Post Office book.


Despite his disability James Hughes was an extremely active man. He moved about the town and countryside independent of others. He used two small blocks which he held in both hands as he slid along. These blocks were twelve inch railway keys which were hard wood timbers used for packing the rails. He had a leather padding, made from a horse’s collar, packed like a cushion, to support his lower body. This pad he made and stitched himself. He also wore a short pair of corduroy trousers around his legs. He normally wore a leather jacket in winter and on wet days. During warm summer days he wore a shirt and had a scarf around his neck. On his head he sometimes wore a small, neat-fitting hat with a small feather in it. At other times, and especially during wet weather, he wore a large mountie-type broad brimmed brown Stilson hat. According to those who knew him he was round faced, weather-beaten and tanned with long fair hair. He was handsome with a lived-in face. He had very powerful shoulders and tremendous power in his arms. He could swing himself up onto a chair. He was a very independent man, to the point of being ‘thran’. He wanted to do everything himself and would have refused any help offered to him if he could have done something himself. He did not go to church and claimed to have no religion at all.

When travelling a distance such as a visit to the town he travelled on a strongly constructed cart. This cart was made of heavy timbers, well supported by cross beams. The wooden wheels, made locally for him, were shod in heavy iron. It is interesting to note that the cart was spring-loaded. He carried a can of oil with him at all times and was seen frequently oiling the wheels and the springs. He carried many of his possessions on the cart, including a hurricane lamp and a can of paraffin. “He packed all his belongings on the cart.

He kept a couple of goats and was often seen travelling with one of the goats pulling the cart. At other times he propelled himself with a long stick which he held in both

hands. He also had a tiller or steering handle on the front which he used to steer the moving vehicle. Although the cart was high off the ground, mounting or dismounting did not present any difficulty. “That trailer would have been some height off the ground.

He used to come into town to do his messages. He was a frequent visitor to the railway station where he would pick up a parcel from the office. He would sign his name, James Hughes, in the most perfect hand-writing. He would go into several shops to buy food and other household items, put them on his cart and then visit a local hostelry for a couple of bottles of guinness. He would come into Willie Kennedy’s bar in Abercorn Square, make his way into the private snug, swing himself up on the padded bench and ring the bell.

When sitting in the corner of their kitchen he would frequently doze off to sleep sitting up. But William McLaughlin would vouch for the fact that he slept with one eye open and his arms folded.

This episode was towards the end of his life and was the only time people remember Gandhi being ill. Although admitted to hospital he was a poor patient and refused to stay. Gandhi left the hospital and got into the ambulance driven by Johnston Brown. When the ambulance stopped at Dan Kelly’s, where Hughes lived, he refused to get out. He told Brown to take him to Mrs. McLaughlin’s at Burndennett. Although Mrs. McLaughlin did not quite know what to do she suggested to Johnston Browne that he could stay in her house for a few days. She kept and fed Hughes but continued to advise him to return to the hospital for his own sake. He left Burndennett for the last time with the intentions of returning to Strabane Hospital. He was found dead at the small house in Dan Kelly’s garden on 3 May 1963. He was 76 year of age when he died.

Days later the police arrived at the McLaughlin house to enquire about living relatives. The police told Mrs. McLaughlin that he had a few pounds in his possession at the time of his death, one estimate puts it at £200. On 4 May 1963 he was taken directly from Strabane Hospital for burial in a small oval-shaped coffin. It is assumed that the money was used to pay for the cost of burial, carried out by the undertaking firm of Alfie White, Railway Road, Strabane. He is buried in plot 9, section (a), sub section (h), in the new upper section of Strabane Cemetery.

The name of Gandhi has always puzzled local people. Some people speculate that his looks resembled the Indian leader of the 40s who fought for independence for the state of India.

So it was that an English man called James Hughes lived during three decades on the Derry Road. He was a phenomenon in that he survived against all the odds, without medical care and attention, he lived in humble surroundings in relative poverty, and in isolation, befriending kind neighbours and friends, but maintaining his independence proudly till the end. Such was the mystic of the man known as Gandhi, the Legless Man!

By Michael Kennedy